What motivates birds to make birdsong?

What motivates birds to make birdsong?

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I was pondering the question "Why do humans make music?" and on an intuitive level, my answer was "because of the feelings it evokes of course!"

But I then wondered, what about songbirds? Does a songbird have a feeling that compels it to make songs? I know there are plenty of instances of birds dancing and singing (at least, some call it that), but what motives does a songbird have to make birdsong? How does this compare to the emotions and motives humans feel?

Why do bird sing?

The main reason, male bird sing to attract mates (often, only males sing). Birds may also sing to communicate to their peers. For example a song can mean "This is my territory, you'd better not approach!". There are other reasons birds can sing (although I think I cited the two most important ones); you'll find much more information if you just googlewhy do birds sing?, there are plenty of very accessible online articles on the subject. Here is one such article that you may like reading

Talking about emotions is always difficult due to the absence of a good definition of what an emotion is. But anyway… yes, if females are attracted to the mates that sing well, it probably (depending on your definition) means it cause them to feel some emotions (sexual excitement for example).

Evolution of music in birds and humans

Bird song to attract mate (sexual selection). Humans, on the other hand, have evolved music production for different reasons (or at least this is what we think). The field of evolutionary musicology is a field in the junction between evolutionary psychology and biomusicology. In evolutionary musicology (and in evolutionary psychology) empirical testing is very complicated and therefore, today we can only think and make hypotheses but we can't test them. So always take with a grain of salt what you read in those fields.

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Researchers Translate a Bird’s Brain Activity Into Song

It is possible to re-create a bird’s song by reading only its brain activity, shows a first proof-of-concept study from the University of California San Diego. The researchers were able to reproduce the songbird’s complex vocalizations down to the pitch, volume and timbre of the original.

Published June 16 in Current Biology, the study lays the foundation for building vocal prostheses for individuals who have lost the ability to speak.

“The current state of the art in communication prosthetics is implantable devices that allow you to generate textual output, writing up to 20 words per minute,” said senior author Timothy Gentner, a professor of psychology and neurobiology at UC San Diego. “Now imagine a vocal prosthesis that enables you to communicate naturally with speech, saying out loud what you’re thinking nearly as you’re thinking it. That is our ultimate goal, and it is the next frontier in functional recovery.”

The approach that Gentner and colleagues are using involves songbirds such as the zebra finch. The connection to vocal prostheses for humans might not be obvious, but in fact, a songbird’s vocalizations are similar to human speech in various ways. They are complex, and they are learned behaviors.

“In many people’s minds, going from a songbird model to a system that will eventually go into humans is a pretty big evolutionary jump,” said Vikash Gilja, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC San Diego who is a co-author on the study. “But it’s a model that gives us a complex behavior that we don’t have access to in typical primate models that are commonly used for neural prosthesis research.”

The research is a cross-collaborative effort between engineers and neuroscientists at UC San Diego, with the Gilja and Gentner labs working together to develop neural recording technologies and neural decoding strategies that leverage both teams’ expertise in neurobiological and behavioral experiments.

The team implanted silicon electrodes in male adult zebra finches and monitored the birds’ neural activity while they sang. Specifically, they recorded the electrical activity of multiple populations of neurons in the sensorimotor part of the brain that ultimately controls the muscles responsible for singing.

The researchers fed the neural recordings into machine learning algorithms. The idea was that these algorithms would be able to make computer-generated copies of actual zebra finch songs just based on the birds’ neural activity. But translating patterns of neural activity into patterns of sounds is no easy task.

“There are just too many neural patterns and too many sound patterns to ever find a single solution for how to directly map one signal onto the other,” said Gentner.

To accomplish this feat, the team used simple representations of the birds’ vocalization patterns. These are essentially mathematical equations modeling the physical changes—that is, changes in pressure and tension—that happen in the finches’ vocal organ, called a syrinx, when they sing. The researchers then trained their algorithms to map neural activity directly to these representations.

Bird song sample: number of a bird in the study, followed by its own natural recorded song and then the reproduced, biomechanical version of the same song.

This approach, the researchers said, is more efficient than having to map neural activity to the actual songs themselves. “If you need to model every little nuance, every little detail of the underlying sound, then the mapping problem becomes a lot more challenging,” said Gilja. “By having this simple representation of the songbirds’ complex vocal behavior, our system can learn mappings that are more robust and more generalizable to a wider range of conditions and behaviors.”

The team’s next step is to demonstrate that their system can reconstruct birdsong from neural activity in real time.

Part of the challenge is that songbirds’ vocal production, like humans’, involves not just output of the sound but a constant monitoring of the environment and constant monitoring of the feedback. If you put headphones on humans, for example, and delay when they hear their own voice, disrupting just the temporal feedback, they’ll start to stutter. Birds do the same thing. They’re listening to their own song. They make adjustments based on what they just heard themselves singing and what they hope to sing next, Gentner explained. A successful vocal prosthesis will ultimately need to work on a timescale that is similarly fast and also intricate enough to accommodate the entire feedback loop, including making adjustments for errors.

“With our collaboration,” said Gentner, “we are leveraging 40 years of research in birds to build a speech prosthesis for humans—a device that would not simply convert a person’s brain signals into a rudimentary set of whole words but give them the ability to make any sound, and so any word, they can imagine, freeing them to communicate whatever they wish.”

Paper: “Neurally driven synthesis of learned, complex vocalizations.” Co-authors include Ezequiel M. Arneodo, Shukai Chen and Daril E. Brown, all at UC San Diego.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grant R01DC018446), the Kavli Institute for the Brain and Mind (IRG no. 2016-004), the Office of Naval Research (MURI N00014-13-1-0205) and a Pew Latin American Fellowship in the Biomedical Sciences.

Declaration of interests: Vikash Gilja is a compensated consultant of Paradromics, Inc., a brain-computer interface company.

This bird has the world's loudest song, study finds. It attracts mates by screaming in their faces

Brazilian and U.S. scientists discovered the Brazilian white bellbird’s "extremely loud" mating call peaks at about 125.4 decibels, which is louder than a rock concert and chainsaw. Buzz60

Researchers say they've recorded the loudest bird call in the world, and the tiny birds use their booming voices to attract potential partners.

The white bellbird, living high up in the trees of the Brazilian Amazon's misty, cloud forests, have two distinctive types of songs, one of which can reach 125 decibels, according to a paper published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Current Biology. The songs, although less complex than some other birds, have a sound pressure three times greater than that of the previous record-holder, the screaming piha.

Standing beside a siren clocks in at 120 decibels, and repeated or routine exposure to sounds that loud can cause pain and ear injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The white bellbird is the loudest bird in the world. (Photo: Anselmo d’Affonseca)

Study author Jeffrey Podos said the birds must have developed such loud calls to attract mates, although he never actually saw the flirting tactic work.

"All we saw were females turn down their prospective suitors," Podos said. "Most animal courtship, 99 out of 100 times, it doesn’t lead to anything."

When males are alone they primarily sing a quieter, one-note song. But when a female is in the area, a male will turn his back to her and start signing the louder and more rare two-note song as she approaches.

"When the female's right next to him, the male sings only his very loudest song," Podos said. "The first note he sings away, then he pivots, swivels around, and he’s got his beak wide open, and he blasts that second note like it's Broadway."

But Podos said by the time the male swings around, the female has usually already flown away because "she knows what's coming." He said the males aren't trying to startle potential mates, but the loudest notes might be overly aggressive.

"She might still be interested in the male, maybe in spite of the song," Podos said. "She just has to endure this crazy habit of the male."

Podos thinks that birds are able to sing so loud because of their wide beaks, which they use to swallow fruit whole. Study co-author Mario Cohn-Haft first noticed during a dissection that the birds also have thick abdominal muscles that make it look "like its been doing ab crunches," which may be related to their loud voice, Podos said.

Ornithologists have speculated in the past that white bellbirds may be the loudest birds in the world, but no one has measured their calls until now, Podos said. Traditionally it's been difficult for researchers to measure animal sounds in a standardized way, so Podos and his colleagues used new-generation recorders and a laser rangefinder similar to the kind golfers use to determine how far away the animals were.

"We knew they would be really loud, but they were a little bit louder than I think we thought they would be," Podos said. "It's just super cool to be there and listening to them. The sound it just resonates, it carries all day. It's like this musical soundtrack to the forest."

Podos said he hopes to study the three other species of bellbirds and better understand what the birds do to help them be successful in mating. He worried that the fires being set in the Amazon may threaten the birds' mountain habitat and hopes that their research will encourage locals to help prevent further damage.

"We want to work but we feel like we have to do it quickly before the place gets damaged," Podos said.

How human language could have evolved from birdsong: Researchers propose new theory on deep roots of human speech

"The sounds uttered by birds offer in several respects the nearest analogy to language," Charles Darwin wrote in "The Descent of Man" (1871), while contemplating how humans learned to speak. Language, he speculated, might have had its origins in singing, which "might have given rise to words expressive of various complex emotions."

Now researchers from MIT, along with a scholar from the University of Tokyo, say that Darwin was on the right path. The balance of evidence, they believe, suggests that human language is a grafting of two communication forms found elsewhere in the animal kingdom: first, the elaborate songs of birds, and second, the more utilitarian, information-bearing types of expression seen in a diversity of other animals.

"It's this adventitious combination that triggered human language," says Shigeru Miyagawa, a professor of linguistics in MIT's Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, and co-author of a new paper published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The idea builds upon Miyagawa's conclusion, detailed in his previous work, that there are two "layers" in all human languages: an "expression" layer, which involves the changeable organization of sentences, and a "lexical" layer, which relates to the core content of a sentence. His conclusion is based on earlier work by linguists including Noam Chomsky, Kenneth Hale and Samuel Jay Keyser.

Based on an analysis of animal communication, and using Miyagawa's framework, the authors say that birdsong closely resembles the expression layer of human sentences -- whereas the communicative waggles of bees, or the short, audible messages of primates, are more like the lexical layer. At some point, between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago, humans may have merged these two types of expression into a uniquely sophisticated form of language.

"There were these two pre-existing systems," Miyagawa says, "like apples and oranges that just happened to be put together."

These kinds of adaptations of existing structures are common in natural history, notes Robert Berwick, a co-author of the paper, who is a professor of computational linguistics in MIT's Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

"When something new evolves, it is often built out of old parts," Berwick says. "We see this over and over again in evolution. Old structures can change just a little bit, and acquire radically new functions."

A new chapter in the songbook

The new paper, "The Emergence of Hierarchical Structure in Human Language," was co-written by Miyagawa, Berwick and Kazuo Okanoya, a biopsychologist at the University of Tokyo who is an expert on animal communication.

To consider the difference between the expression layer and the lexical layer, take a simple sentence: "Todd saw a condor." We can easily create variations of this, such as, "When did Todd see a condor?" This rearranging of elements takes place in the expression layer and allows us to add complexity and ask questions. But the lexical layer remains the same, since it involves the same core elements: the subject, "Todd," the verb, "to see," and the object, "condor."

Birdsong lacks a lexical structure. Instead, birds sing learned melodies with what Berwick calls a "holistic" structure the entire song has one meaning, whether about mating, territory or other things. The Bengalese finch, as the authors note, can loop back to parts of previous melodies, allowing for greater variation and communication of more things a nightingale may be able to recite from 100 to 200 different melodies.

By contrast, other types of animals have bare-bones modes of expression without the same melodic capacity. Bees communicate visually, using precise waggles to indicate sources of foods to their peers other primates can make a range of sounds, comprising warnings about predators and other messages.

Humans, according to Miyagawa, Berwick and Okanoya, fruitfully combined these systems. We can communicate essential information, like bees or primates -- but like birds, we also have a melodic capacity and an ability to recombine parts of our uttered language. For this reason, our finite vocabularies can generate a seemingly infinite string of words. Indeed, the researchers suggest that humans first had the ability to sing, as Darwin conjectured, and then managed to integrate specific lexical elements into those songs.

"It's not a very long step to say that what got joined together was the ability to construct these complex patterns, like a song, but with words," Berwick says.

As they note in the paper, some of the "striking parallels" between language acquisition in birds and humans include the phase of life when each is best at picking up languages, and the part of the brain used for language. Another similarity, Berwick notes, relates to an insight of celebrated MIT professor emeritus of linguistics Morris Halle, who, as Berwick puts it, observed that "all human languages have a finite number of stress patterns, a certain number of beat patterns. Well, in birdsong, there is also this limited number of beat patterns."

Birds and bees

The researchers acknowledge that further empirical studies on the subject would be desirable.

"It's just a hypothesis," Berwick says. "But it's a way to make explicit what Darwin was talking about very vaguely, because we know more about language now."

Miyagawa, for his part, asserts it is a viable idea in part because it could be subject to more scrutiny, as the communication patterns of other species are examined in further detail. "If this is right, then human language has a precursor in nature, in evolution, that we can actually test today," he says, adding that bees, birds and other primates could all be sources of further research insight.

MIT-based research in linguistics has largely been characterized by the search for universal aspects of all human languages. With this paper, Miyagawa, Berwick and Okanoya hope to spur others to think of the universality of language in evolutionary terms. It is not just a random cultural construct, they say, but based in part on capacities humans share with other species. At the same time, Miyagawa notes, human language is unique, in that two independent systems in nature merged, in our species, to allow us to generate unbounded linguistic possibilities, albeit within a constrained system.

"Human language is not just freeform, but it is rule-based," Miyagawa says. "If we are right, human language has a very heavy constraint on what it can and cannot do, based on its antecedents in nature."

3 Answers 3

We don't know what is necessary for human level intelligence, so let's take the human brain as a starting point, and look at three characteristics:

  • weight: our brains weigh about 1.5 kg. As noted by @Slarty, some humans show intelligence with almost half their brain removed, so there's probably some room to maneuver.
  • calories: our brains require at least 260 kcal a day To function.
  • blood supply: our brains require about 750 millilitres per minute, or 15% of the cardiac output

The largest animal known to be able to fly is the Quetzalcoatlus. Conservative estimates of its weight are around 80 kg, with 250 kg more likely. This puts it in range of a human body, so it makes it a good candidate.

Step one, brain weight. Can we put 1.5 kg of brain into the Quetzalcoatlus' head without breaking stuff? One promising target is the gigantic beak. If we change the intelligent bird's diet (and require them to speak) we may be able to get rid of 90% of the beak and replace that weight by a brain. I can't find the weight of a Quetzalcoatlus skull, but in humans, the entire skeleton is about 15% of our weight, and despite having hollow bones, birds' skeletons have roughly the same weight. With that figure, conservatively estimating the beak to be one twentieth of the skeleton, we get a weight saving of about 0.5kg if we shorten the beak by 90%, if the body weight is 70kg. For less conservative estimates of the body weight, we get closer to 1.5kg.

Next up, calories. For non-passerine birds, the calorie intake per kg is pretty similar to mammals. Assuming 70kg body weight, we get around 2000 kcal, assuming 200kg, we get 5000 kcal. Either way, the 260 kcal required for the brain to operate is a relatively small addition, which can probably be handwaved by making the available food a bit more nutritious (possibly as a result of the intelligence increasing with evolution, as it was for humans).

Finally, blood supply. The neck of the Quetzalcoatl is long, requiring a powerful heart to get enough blood up there. Giraffes have a similar configuration. Their brains weigh half of what a human brain weighs, and they require an 11 kg heart to supply it with blood. Adding 10kg to a 70kg pterosaur might be a deal breaker. In a 200kg beast, there's probably a bit more wiggleroom.

One obvious solution is to shorten the neck. While many large birds have long necks, others, like bustards and condors have short necks, so the reason the Quetzalcoatlus had a long neck may be more to do with feeding than aerodynamics. So, starting with the (likely sizeable) heart the Quetzalcoatlus already had, if we shorten the neck and the beak, we can keep the cardiac output the same, sending more blood to the brain. As a bonus, since the smaller beak puts the center of mass of the skull closer to the end of the neck, less muscle tissue is required in the neck, which also means more blood for the brain.

I'm sure I've missed something, but looking at these considerations, it seems plausible to put a human brain into something ythat flies the way a Quetzalcoatlus did.

Update after comment

What can we do if we limit ourselves to the basic dimensions of a bald eagle? It is estimated that the maximum wing loading (amount of weight per unit of wing surface) for animals is 20 kg/m^2. I can't find the wing surface of a bald eagle but I recon that with a wing span of 2m, a single square meter is reasonable (the wings are about a quarter as deep as they are wide). In other words the bald eagle is much lighter than its maximum weight. Swans have roughly the same wingspan at twice the weight, so this bears out. They also have much more trouble taking off, so at 12kg we are probably approaching the limit of what nature can do with a 2m wingspan.

So, at 6kg for a standard bald eagle, there is plenty of room to fit in a 1.5kg brain and still be able to lift off.

A bald eagle's diet is about 150 kcal, so it would need to more than double its intake to 310. Cooked food and agriculture should get you some of the way there, but you can also give a much richer natural source of nutrition.

The total cardiac output of a pigeon is 200 ml/min at rest, and 1000 ml/min active. Assuming that this scales linearly, the bald eagle's heart produces about 1200ml/min at rest, which we need to almost double to accommodate the new brain (we can ignore the output required to supply the original 12 grams of brain). Heart mass and cardiac output have a linear relation so we need to double the size of the heart, and probably the lungs as well. The heart mass for anything weighing 6kg is no more than a few tens of grams, so that easily fits our weight budget. Lung mass is closer to a few hundred grams, but still easy enough to double without getting into trouble.

Finally, at this size the skull volume is a big problem. We need to up the cranial capacity from 16 to 1000 cubic cm. Note that this seems worse than it is, due to the cubic relation between scale and volume. Quadrupling the length, width and height of the head would be enough. This would change the proportion of the head and body to something like a toucan. Its head would be around 1/10 of its body. It would be difficult to keep this aerodynamic, but shrinking the brain to the minimum required for intelligence, putting much more brain matter in the nervous system, and elongating it into the neck will go a long way.

In short, I guess you'd end up with something that looks like a swan without a neck, and with giant head, but I think it can work.

Brilliant Bird Beaks: An Experiment to Understand Animal Adaptation

The objective of this project is to identify and understand adaptations in birds. Through experimentation with models of bird beak shapes and different types of bird &ldquofood&rdquo the student will grasp the importance of physical adaptations to an organism&rsquos survival.

  • How might the shape and structure of a bird&rsquos beak affect how and what it eats?
  • What structural and behavioral adaptations do the animals that are native to your hometown have?
  • Which birds are native to your area? What are the shapes of their beaks?
  • What is a trait? How are these traits passed down from generation to generation?
  • What are some human adaptations?
  • How can I make a data table?
  • What is a bar graph?

Adaptations are how a plant or animal is built or how it behaves that allow it to survive in its environment. There are two main types of adaptations: structural (or physical) and behavioral. A structural adaptation is part of the organism&rsquos body (i.e. birds-wings, humans-opposable thumbs). Behavioral adaptations are, as the name infers, the way the organism behaves that allows it to survive (i.e. birds-migration, opossum-plays dead). Understanding that plants and animals are specially adapted to specific habitats is not only fascinating, but is also related to real world issues such as habitat loss and environmental conservation. Understanding animal adaptations leads to an understanding of human invention and engineering. We&rsquove borrowed many ideas from animals to help construct items that let us adapt ourselves to different activities (i.e. snorkels for breathing under water, the bird-like shape of airplanes, camouflage material, etc.)

All materials can be found around the home or readily purchased at the grocery store or hardware store.

Who is the Greek God of Birds?

There is a list of multiple “sacred” birds – not only in mythology but out of it, too. The Bird Gods, according to Greek tradition, is Anthus.

Young Anthus was attacked by his father’s horse and was subsequently killed. Zeus, the Greek God, felt pity for the family and transformed the entire family into birds.

Anthus, specifically, was transformed to look like a bird but made a neigh sound like a horse.

However, anytime the mythological creature Anthus was around a horse, he would flee the area to protect himself.


The ability of certain animal groups to fly by themselves has always stirred our imaginations. Even in the 15th century Leonardo da Vinci was famously inspired to try to build bird-like ornithopters. However, it was not until the 19th century that the nature of aerodynamic lift was understood, and it is a little more than 100 years since it was successfully applied to achieve flight by an aircraft. The key to success, as previous attempts to mimic animal flapping flight had failed (sometimes fatally), was to separate lift and thrust generation, so that aircraft wings provide lift while a propeller generates thrust. But animals generate lift and thrust by flapping their wings, which continuously change shape and deform elastically throughout the wingstroke. An analytical solution of Navier–Stokes equations (the general differential equations arising from applying Newton's second law to viscous fluid motion), which describe the aerodynamic forces that keep fliers aloft, would, in principle, solve the problem of how birds fly, but a solution to these equations defies scientists to this day. However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. In a landmark paper from 1968 published in The Journal of Experimental Biology(Pennycuick, 1968b), Colin Pennycuick combined aerodynamic (helicopter) theory with ingenious wind tunnel experiments using a trained pigeon Columba livia to derive a quantitatively accurate mechanical model of bird flight. In a companion paper Pennycuick also estimated some basic properties for the bird in steady gliding flight in a tilted wind tunnel (Pennycuick,1968a), including how the profile drag coefficient varies in relation to the lift coefficient and the magnitude of the parasite drag coefficient of a bird. Pennycuick used this information about wing lift and drag from the body and wings to develop his classic `momentum jet' model of flapping flight mechanics (Pennycuick,1968b).

The `momentum jet' component of the model, which Pennycuick borrowed from helicopter theory, considers the bird as an `actuator', a circular disc of diameter equal to the wingspan. The actuator generates a downward deflected uniform jet (which is why this model is also called the `momentum jet' model of flight). The rate of momentum acquired by this jet must balance the bird's weight in steady level flight, while the fact that the wings are flapping and generating a pulsed wake is ignored by this model.

Pennycuick's main focus was to derive how the total mechanical power required to fly varies across a range of airspeeds (U). To do so he divided the total power into three components, each of which varies with airspeed but in different ways. The three components are induced power due to lift generation (declines with U), parasite power due to the drag of the body (called parasite because it originates from non-lifting parts,increases with U), and profile power due to drag of the wings. Determining how profile power varies across speed was the most difficult task,but due to diverging processes Pennycuick concluded that it remains almost constant in the mid-range of natural flight speeds, although eventually it will increase, as speeds get very high. The wind tunnel experiments allowed Pennycuick to assign values to the three power components, which added together yielded the famous U-shaped power curve of animal flight(Fig. 1). With this curve in hand Pennycuick could predict how fast a bird should fly in different situations, what the feasible speed range is for sustained flight, and at what rate flight fuel is consumed, etc.

When You See Bird Courtship

It can be amazing for birders to witness delicate and intricate courtship rituals, but it is important that those rituals not be disturbed. Attracting mates is a demanding process, and any disruption could harm a pair bond and cause the birds to abandon their efforts. If mating is interrupted, the birds may ultimately choose less suitable partners or not mate at all. Birders should keep their distance and remain as unobtrusive as possible if they notice any signs of courtship behavior or pair bonding in the birds they see. Just observing and understanding bird courtship, however, can help birders better appreciate the complexity of the avian relationships forming in their backyard.


  1. Berde

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  2. Gazragore

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  3. Triston


  4. Bayard

    I suppose to be guided when choosing only to your taste. There will be no other criteria for the music posted on the blog. Something in my opinion is more suitable for morning listening. Chot something - for the evening.

  5. Onfroi

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  6. Corann

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